restricted access 17 Imposition
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17 Imposition RICHARD DELGADO AND JEAN STEFANCIC Society generally deploys terms of imposition at key moments in the history of a reform effort, such as blacks' struggle for equal opportunity, or women's campaign for reproductive rights. Before reaching that point, society tolerates or even supports the new movement. We march, link arms, and sing with the newcomers, identifying with their struggle. At some point, however, reaction sets in. We decide the group has gone far enough. At first, justice seemed to be on their side. But now we see them as imposing, taking the offensive, asking for concessions they do not deserve. Now they are the aggressors, and we the victims. At precisely this point in a reform's history, we begin to deploy what we call "imposition language" -language of encroachment. We decide the group is asking for "special" status. We find their demands excessive, tiresome, or frightening. The imposition narrative delegitimizes the reform movement, portraying it as unprincipled. But by a neat switch, it also enables us to feel comfortable about withdrawing our support ; the imposition paints us as morally entitled to oppose the movement and bring it to a halt. Words That Impugn the Outsider Personally Sometimes society deems an individual guilty of imposing by virtue of who he or she is-that is, simply by being a Jew, woman, Chinese, or black engaged in some ordinary activity of life. These examples were somewhat more common early in our history than they are now. But they have not entirely died out; one hears overtones of the essentialist approach even today, fifty years after we abandoned the pseudoscientific theories of human differences that gave rise to it. Certain social commentators have no inhibition against using imposition language. For example, Linda Chavez, writing in the New Republic, seems to ridicule in the title of her article, Just Say Latino, Hispanic groups who insist on calling themselves "Latino." How tiresome-yet another new name, yet another imposition on our good natures! Her article also describes the call for affirmative action programs for Hispanics in Washington, D.C., as amounting to quotas, and the group's troubles as its own fault for refusing to legalize and assimilate into the culture as previous immigrants have done. There is little to indicate that Chavez wrote as she did to exhort Hispanic Americans to do better. She de35 WM. & MARY L. REV. 1025 (1994). Originally published in the William and Mary Law Review. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Imposition 99 scribes their traits in fatalistic terms, as though they are inborn and unlikely to change.1 The English-only movement supplies further examples of inherent imposition. Supporters speak of immigrants who wish to maintain their culture with an irritation that verges on revulsion. They are unpatriotic and unfit to reside here, their presence (in their unreformed foreign language speaking condition) calculated only to precipitate "white flight."2 Certain Latino and Asian groups' insistence on speaking their own language with each other merits special scorn. In an ironic twist, Asians who succeed can also draw unfavorable attention. Recently, a United States Representative met with leaders of two Asian groups to make amends for what he was forced to admit were "poorly chosen words" related to Asian American students who win scholarships. Speaking to the Maryland congressional delegation, Republican congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett noted that of recently awarded scholarly prizes, "half went to those with Oriental names, a sixth. to Indian names, and the rest to what we would consider normal Americans." Bartlett later explained that he meant "normal" only in the sense of average, that he did not mean to offend anyone, and that the news media had taken liberties3-thereby completing a nearly perfect triple-trope. The Asian schoolchildren overstepped by being here in the first place-note the use of the slightly derogatory term "Oriental." Next, the Asian students had the effrontery to apply themselves at school, thereby imposing on the prerogative of the native-born to take things easy and still get good grades-witness the use of the word "normal" to imply that the Asian children were strange. Finally, the media overstepped by reporting the congressman's remarks, thereby invading his prerogative to put the foreigners in their place without drawing attention . Words That Impugn the Outsider's Motives Imposition language also can cast reformers or an outsider group in a negative light because of their supposed bad motives or unstated agenda. The outsider is not looking for social justice, but...